Critical minerals are a hot button issue. Materials that long seemed obscure like Rare Earths, Lithium, Cobalt, Graphite, and Nickel have entered the mainstream and are making headlines every day.
Against the backdrop of the ongoing materials science revolution and the intensifying battery arms race, it is only fitting that this month, three pioneers of Lithium-ion battery technology were awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Through their innovations, John Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino, in the words of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences that awards the prestigious prize every year, “created a rechargeable world.”
A post for Quantamagazine’s Abstractions blog outlines some of the details of the research accomplishments by Goodenough, Whittingham and Yoshino, who, by building on each other’s work, developed a Lithium-ion battery that — unlike the ones used before — were safe, lightweight, and highly efficient. According to Quantamagazine: “That design is ubiquitous today, powering portable electronics and helping to shift the world’s energy infrastructure in a more sustainable direction, as it allows electricity produced from renewable sources, such as the sun and the wind, to be efficiently stored and put to work.”
Ultimately, in a nutshell, “Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionized our lives since they first entered the market in 1991. They have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind.”
Battery technology indeed has come a long way since the three Nobel Prize winners began their work in the field in the 1970s. After Sony introduced the first commercialized the Lithium-ion battery in 1991, camcorders were the biggest driver of demand for several years. Laptops replaced camcorders as biggest source of demand by 2000, and by 2010, the smart phone was the biggest driver of demand for Lithium-ion battery technology.
Recently, however, fueled in particular by the advent of the electric vehicle (EV), developments in the field of battery technology have been kicked into high gear.
The fact that Goodenough, Whittingham and Yoshino have finally been recognized for their contributions to the advancement of Lithium-ion battery technology is a testament to these developments and to the growing realization that, in the words of Simon Moores, managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence and a member of the ARPN panel of experts: “we have reached a new gear in this energy storage revolution which is now having a profound impact on supply chains and the raw materials that fuel it.”
Commenting on this year’s Nobel Prize award, Prof. Dame Carol Robinson, president of the British Royal Society of Chemistry, stated that battery tech research will remain an exciting field:
“It’s not the end of the journey, as lithium is a finite resource and many scientists around the world are building on the foundations laid by these three brilliant chemists.”